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Peter Walsh

Peter Walsh

Design professional and star of TLC's Clean Sweep

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Meryl Starr

Organizing expert, author and personal consultant

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Peter Walsh on Getting Organized

Peter Walsh on Getting Organized

Peter Walsh was the star of “Clean Sweep,” a TLC television show that took people through the process of getting organized. His company, PeterWalshDesign, helps people organize their personal space and eliminate obstacles preventing them from reaching their life goals. Author of How to Organize (Just About) Everything: More Than 500 Step-by-Step Instructions for Everything from Organizing Your Closets to Planning a Wedding to Creating a Flawless Filing System, Walsh offers this advice on the first 30 days of getting organized.

What motivates you to be organized?

For me, the one reason to be organized is to live a richer, fuller, less stressed life.

Once people make the commitment to get organized, what are the most important things to do during the first 30 days?

The biggest mistake people fall into is focusing on their stuff. During the first 30 days and beyond, your focus has to be on defining a vision for your life, your home and each room. Ask yourself, “What do I want from this space?” That’s the criteria for deciding what stays in a space and what goes.

What are some of the top areas that people need organizing ideas for?

There are four things: Paperwork, clothing, kids’ toys and the garage. These are always the things people want to get organized—with paperwork and clothes being on the top of that list.

What advice do you have for someone who is hesitant to make this change?

I explain that clutter robs us of so much. You simply can’t function in a room that’s overrun with stuff. Clutter robs us of our physical space; it robs us socially, because we’re embarrassed to have people in our home; and it robs us emotionally, because it’s hard to be focused or calm in a space where you feel stressed and overwhelmed. If people are hesitant to get organized, I explain that clutter is stealing all of this from them, and that they can’t imagine how much happier and focused they’d be in a decluttered, organized space.

Why has getting organized become such an issue for so many people?

We buy into this idea that the more successful we are, the more we should own. When we buy things, we buy the “promise,” not the objects. We overload our homes with stuff, expecting this promise to be filled. The irony is that more is not better.

Are there any specific emotions people experience as they first start the organizing process?

Definitely. When people have a lot of clutter in their house, they feel overwhelmed and paralyzed—meaning they don’t know where to start. Clutter makes people feel buried, suffocated and overwhelmed.

How do you help them overcome these fears?

The trick is not to focus on the actual stuff, because it will overwhelm them. I take people away from their stuff and ask them what their vision of the space is. For example, I deal frequently with master bedrooms. I’ll stand in the space with a person and ask them what they want. Most people say, “…a haven, a sanctuary, a spa-like retreat, a kid-free space, etc.” I tell people to hold those words in their heads as their vision for the space. We then start by looking around the room and eliminating all the things that hinder achieving that vision.

Explain the theory from your book, of living a richer life with less stuff.

We’re taught from a very early age that whoever has the most toys rules the sandpit. You get a bigger job, you buy a bigger house; you get a salary increase, you buy more clothes. What I discovered is that more is not necessarily better. Your home should be a haven—a place of quiet, peace and rest. If your space is full of stuff, then it’s impossible to maintain the peace and calm a home should give you. If you focus on the quality of life you want, rather than on the quantity of what you want, you’ll end up with a space that reflects who you are.

Do disorganized people lose out on any aspect of life?

Peace and harmony. I just don’t think you can be a relaxed person if you’re constantly losing stuff.

Is it possible to get organized in 30 days?

Oh, absolutely! It’s possible to get organized in three days, provided you focus first on what you want from life and the space you’re creating. Change is possible, but it has to be driven by inner vision.

What part of a person’s life should he or she organize first?

The place you have to organize first is your mind. If you’re not focused in your head, you can’t be focused anywhere else.

How does getting organized affect people?

I think it makes you feel alive. For the first time in your life, there’s a feeling that you own your stuff, not the other way around. You can focus on relationships, rather than your possessions. It’s a massive shift.

What things can people do to achieve successful results on the path to organization?

Follow your vision and assess what you own. If something helps you achieve your vision, keep it; if it doesn’t, let it go. You should control what comes into your home and focus on quality, not quantity. Look at organization as a way to become fully organic, fully whole—that should be your focus. It’s not about the file or photo boxes; it’s about being the best person you can be.

SIGNATURE QUESTIONS

What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?

That change is possible—that growth can be painful, but if you pursue something with honesty and integrity, the place you end up at will always be better than where you are now.

The best thing about change is…

…it makes me know I’m alive.

What is the best change you have ever made?

Realizing that I can do whatever I want.

For more information on Peter Walsh, visit www.peterwalshdesign.com.

Posted: 9/25/07
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